We woke up early to a glorious day, much warmer and sunnier than the day before and could see for miles from the hotel on the heights of Mbabane. I wanted to leave Mbabane early as I was eager to get to Kruger National Park to get the most out of our park experience. Breakfast started at 7am and I was there, showered, packed and ready to eat! It was a buffet breakfast and fairly good, though we didn’t have too much time to enjoy it. We drove the route that takes you through Piggs Peak and it was a much prettier drive than the day before, even though there was still goats in the road every now and again. We made good time to the Jeppe’s Reef border post and once again the border process was quick and efficient. Just outside the border on the South African side we hit some roadworks that carried on the whole way to Malelane, and between that and the cows in the road it slowed us down quite a lot and made me glad we left so early from Mbabane.
We picked up our shopping for the 4 nights in Kruger at the Spar in Malelane – along with some ice to keep everything properly cool as it was very warm! We managed to be in the park by 11:15 tp start our Kruger adventure. We turned off the tar quite early on and did the loop that takes you to Berg-en-Dal and it was DRY – almost scorched earth dry, but we still managed to spot the ever present impala, as well as some buffalo and giraffe. At Berg-en-Dal I hoped that there’d be some water in their dam and got out to take pictures, but it was dry. Berg-en-Dal seems like a nice camp though and in rainier times the boardwalk would be great for wild viewing. I appreciate that Kruger has summer rains, and as such is dry this time of year anyway, but you can see that this is drought, rather than just a dry season. We carried on back to the tar and spotted some rhinos, looking very forlorn and sad, standing around in an empty waterhole – we saw 15 rhinos in the first day in the end. We soon saw some elephants and a couple of lions lying next to the road under a tree, but the big excitement of course was spotting a leopard up a hill, even though she was so well hidden there was no way I could have managed to take a picture of her. So that was it – Big 5 done within three hours of entering Kruger and we were well chuffed with ourselves!
We checked in at Skukuza and found out bungalow, number 115. There was no hotplate but our rondavel was close to the shared cooking facility so it wasn’t a problem! The bungalow has everything else, fridge/freezer, utensils, individual braai facility and aircon and we were happy with everything provided.
Brian had had enough of driving by that point and went to see to our laundry situation, which was approaching crisis stage, while I went for a quick drive to a nearby Lake Panic Bird Hide, overlooking a lake with enough water for hippos, crocodiles, terrapin and everything else. I also spotted my first (though not the last) dead hippo a little bit up from the hide in a shallow pool of water. I didn’t stay too long as I was massively intimidated by all the men practising extreme photography and clearly overcompensating for something, with their cameras with 3-foot camouflages lenses. We had a quick beer on Cattle Baron’s deck while the sun set and reflected on a perfect day in the bush. Dinner was another braai; this time butterflied chicken breast with potatoes, and it was lovely! Even better was just to be able to sit outside in the quiet, watching the fire on a nice warm evening and not having to move on the next day again, and just being able to relax. I was a bit worried about Kruger as you hear so many people saying it has changed and is too busy and loud and commercial, but I didn’t find that at all. Sure, it is a bit more commercial than it was 30 years ago, but you can still get away from other people it you want and it is certainly not over crowded!